By Enrique Flores
In just 10 days this August, seven of our San Jose residents were killed, and five more are recovering from gun shot wounds. Some call this a “spike” in violence, I call it “The Start of the Second War.”
This is not an anomaly. Those community members older than 30 years old, who lived in Gang Abatement Zones during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, know. You see, there is a huge difference between “a spike in gang violence” and “war.” Once a war begins, it is almost impossible to stop. The First War, during of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, lasted 10 years, and was marked by every day violence. “War” in any context is violence that occurs “on sight.” There is no “taking turns, waiting for retaliation.”
Our city leaders should not act surprised at this new level of violence. In fact, I voiced the “Mayday” alarm early. Others have done so as well. For the past seven years, we have been warning city and community leaders during one-on-one meetings and during collaborative meetings. Two years ago I wrote in a Mercury News Op-Ed piece that we were on the cusp of this Second War. Sadly, these warnings fell on deaf ears and were disregarded by many as alarmism.
This second war may perplex some, but we—those who were traumatized by the 1st war—saw this second “Tsunami” wave coming years in advance. Many moved away in order to spare their children from such hell on earth. Others became numb, and stood by looking at the waters receding slowly.
Now we are here. At the start of the Second War. Sadly, it is too late for prevention talk. Now is the time for relentless intervention efforts. However, I predict this Second War will be worse than the first for three reasons:
1. Our younger generation has been desensitized to violence by the 2nd grade.
2. Guns are now utilized more often as weapons of choice, thanks in part to the sale of toy guns which teach children how to load 10 “bullets” into a magazine clip and chamber each round by pulling the slide.
3. Our society’s failure to create sufficient job opportunities and livable wages have created the conditions for self-destructive despair. Our unwillingness to fund effective prevention and intervention programs is now evident. Defunding mentoring programs, community centers and reducing police response time has created the perfect storm. Now the storm is here. We must all unite to save as many as we can.
The truth is, gang members are NOT monsters. Gang members are part of our community. They are a mirror—our sons, daughters, cousins, neighbors—reflecting back their pain caused by our society’s gross negligence. The truth is: Behavior is language. And since 2003, our teens and young adults have been “talking” to us via these “spikes” of gang violence. But too many of our leaders failed to listen. If we care to listen, we must ask, “What are the teens and young adults saying to us when they get multiple tattoos on their faces? What are our teens and young adults saying when they physically assault, stab, and kill in broad daylight?” The answer is heart-breaking: They are telling us about the death of their dreams. They are telling us that they no longer believe that home ownership, a quality education, and their ultimate career aspirations are realistic goals.
Now, more than ever, is the time to restore hope. Now is the time to fight for more funding. Now is the time to declare war on poverty and despair. Now is the time to embrace all in kinship and realize that those who we believe deserve love the least, are actually the ones that need it the most.
Enrique Flores is the founder of Eastside Heroes, a mentoring non-profit, director of the Corozon Project in East San Jose, and a policy aide for Supervisor Dave Cortese. He wrote this for San Jose Inside.